The Fire Escape Garden: May

A bin of lettuce and spinich at left and strawberries at right.


What’s one to do when one loves to garden but hasn’t a yard?  Why, accumulate lots of pots and truck loads of soil up to one’s fifth floor apartment, of course!  This is what I’ve been doing over the past four years to create a mostly edible garden on my apartment’s fire escape.


NOTE: When using a fire escape as a garden, it’s important to keep the walkway clear.  This is an emergency exit, after all!


Container gardening can be challenging, but there’s nothing quite like hopping out your living room window and harvesting some fresh produce for a summer meal.


I’ll share my garden’s successes and failures here each month.  These photos were taken about two and a half weeks ago, in mid-May.




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The two bins pictured here are made of a large Rubbermaid container sawed in half.  Holes were drilled in the bottom of the one on the left, and the top of the container was also drilled and became the bottom of the container in the middle.  I wrapped fabric around the container in the middle for a different look from bright blue.


The left container is packed with three rows of lettuce and spinach.  Due to the restriction of the plant’s root system, anything grown in a container will generally be smaller or yield less than plants grown in the ground, so I had the idea to intentionally pack in seeds and grow small with microgreens – lettuce, spinach, etc. meant to be harvested when it’s about 2″ tall.  This microgreens article by Joene Hendry served as my inspiration.


The middle container is a strawberry patch, which is doing quite well after being transferred from the hanging basket at right.  I cut individual plants from the large strawberry “knot” in the basket and planted them in two rows in the container.  Strawberries spread like crazy, so I expect this container will be brimming with plants by the end of the year.


I planted Lunaria, or “money plant,” in the hanging basket (if you grow it, it will come, right?).  These will eventually put out little purple flowers, but this plant is mostly coveted for its seed pods, which are silvery and translucent.  The common name for this plant is also “honesty.”


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From left to right: co-gardener Olive (she mostly eats my plants, so I can’t really keep anything inside – except for wheatgrass, which cats love), a flowering plant (I forget the name) that grows a ton every year, a hydrangea I started from a twig about a year ago (it’s going to bloom this year!), sunflowers, a cactus (also about to flower, and clipped from a bigger plant – you can’t really see the pot in this picture), cilantro, and basil.


For the flowering plants, I fertilize the pots every couple of months with Plant-tone, a slow-releasing organic fertilizer.  For the vegetables and fruit, I generally just use good compost as soil.  I did very little tilling at the beginning of the season to preserve soil structure and instead used a stake to poke holes in hard-packed soil.


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Buds on the hydrangea!  I was so surprised to see this; hydrangeas usually take a few years to bloom.  I think this one is blooming so soon because of its small environment.


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Broccoli seedlings.  I just transplanted these into small plastic pots.


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Mint in the front, moss in the middle (the one on the left in the terra cotta pot has an overwintered “Wandering Jew” in it), and a lantana left too long in a small pot.  It got very leggy and rootbound, but I repotted it and it’s coming back strong.


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The overwintered Wandering Jew, and some moss that looks like it’s getting too much sun.  It I’m lucky, the Wandering Jew (Latin name Tradescantia pallida) will put out small pink flowers.


Next month on “The Fire Escape Garden:”


Tomatoes, potatoes, and watermelon: can they be grown on a fire escape?  We’ll find out!

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